March 7, 2011
The hundreds of Yiddish songs collected in Yidishe folkslider were compiled by the Ukrainian ethnomusicologist Moshe Beregovski (1892–1961) during his numerous research trips around Eastern Europe. From 1929 to 1947, Beregovski traveled around the Ukraine, visiting collective farms, factories and homes, to collect secular Jewish music – both documenting the songs and melodies on paper, and recording them on phonograph cylinders. With around 2000 field recordings, Beregovski’s ambitious project resulted in the largest and most detailed collection of its kind in prewar Europe.
Yidishe Folkslider was assembled in collaboration with the Yiddish poet Itzik Fefer (1900-1952). A member of the Communist Party, and frequently published in Soviet-Yiddish magazines, Fefer was an apologist for Soviet ideology, and has been described as one of the "most loyal and conformist Yiddish poets." Soviet editors of folk music collections often modified old songs or added new ones that would support Soviet ideology and idealize Soviet life, and this is evident in this volume, which opens with “The International.” In spite of Fefer’s allegiance to Communist ideology, he was persecuted by the security police and Stalin’s courts, and executed along with 13 other Yiddish intellectuals in 1952.
This anthology, published in the Ukraine in 1938, is a rich collection of folk songs with notes, lyrics and transcriptions. The songs, sorted into categories such as “Arbet un kamf,” “Libe-lider,” and “Af khasenes un simkhes,” provide us not only with beautiful melodies and texts, but also with snapshots of the lives of Eastern European Jews in the Soviet Union, dominated by poverty and political struggle, but full of idealism, passion and humor.